I grew up in Upton Park, near West Ham, east London, though I was born in Balham, south London. I lived there until I was 15 and remember that the community was great. It was really quiet, we knew everyone on the street and so if we dared do anything wrong everyone knew where you lived – it was an extremely friendly neighbourhood. That was the norm. I remember jumping over neighbour’s fences to get your ball, carrying old people's shopping, sweeping their front paths in autumn and in the snow, and just making sure they were all right. We weren’t perfect; there were a few games of postman’s knock I have to confess.
I then moved to Wanstead, just a bus ride away. It was very different. It wasn’t as friendly but you just had to get on with things. Just as I was about to leave school, I went to a careers advisor who told me that my destiny was accountancy. I thought no, and ignored them.
I was determined not to be an accountant, so I went to Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent to study International Relations. I met seven girls like me in student accommodation and we all got on and formed our own little community. We used to go for runs in the countryside and by the collieries, and then pop into the pub for drinks, mine tended to be black current juice until they put the price up from 5p. I’d grown up with quite strict parents so hadn’t really socialised before university and didn’t know what a pub was until I left home, that’s what happens when you have a Jamaican father and Guyanese mother but I wouldn’t be where I am today without their continued love and support.
When I left university, I did a graduate PA course and worked for an IT company in Oxford Circus. It was brilliant there. It was a young, dynamic and high profile organisation. Somehow, the world of accountancy sucked me in and I moved to Topshop’s Head Office in Oxford Street to begin my career in accountancy.
I also brought my first home then. You could get a mortgage based solely on three times your salary – it was so much easier to get a mortgage compared to now, but the interest rates were somewhere been 13% to 15%. It’s much harder for young people today to save for a deposit but there are some amazing options out there to help you get on the first run of the ladder. I was made redundant from Topshop when the company moved its offices to Leeds, but that just meant I had an opportunity. The management were conscious of the need to continue business as usual and support staff being made redundant, so it was a key point in my life where I was shown what good practice looks like. I then moved to the pharmaceutical sector where I qualified as an accountant and later an internal auditor. My manager was fantastic, old school and innovative at the same time, they mentored me into my first management role and supported me, as I became a mother for the first time. A few years later I left and went to work for Tate & Lyle in Silvertown, near city airport, and had my first taste of treasury, entering into the world of forex swaps and went on to have baby number two, now 19!
I’m not sure where the years went but I left Tate & Lyle, and the private sector, to move into social housing, which I love. I joined East Thames Housing Group (now L&Q) in 2003 as their Treasury & Capital Accountant – it was my substantive role in treasury. I assisted in the restructuring of their £400m loan book and haven’t looked back since. Along the way, I’ve worked for a few other housing associations in various capacities but in 2014, I joined Wandle. Ever conscious of the housing demand in London, I’ve worked with the business to support the New Homes Strategy and build more homes. Since joining, we’ve raised £105m pounds in loans and are now on course to raise a similar amount to support our objective of building 1000 homes by 2021.
For me a home is not just bricks and mortar. If it were, all those sofa sleepers and homeless people in shelters would be catered for. A home is so important, it means somewhere secure, somewhere that will enable you and your family to access services - whether that’s education, health, social services or just “signing on” or applying for jobs. It enables people to have a better life – just like Gary, Wandle’s first 50 face. Having a home affects your mental health, your social interactions and your physical health in a positive way.
In my lifetime, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, redundancies, have been critically ill, and all sorts of other uncertainties in my life, but I think in general I’m quite a resilient, optimistic and blessed person. That has shaped the person I am today and helped me dust myself off and pick myself up (with the support of others) and keep going. It has also instilled that passion to help others. Finance is my panache, it’s what I’m good at and it’s a tool I use to help others, but I’ve also done mentoring, a bit of repairs and maintenance, and other voluntary charity work in my time and am passionate about doing more.
As we embark on raising funds through Private Placement, I reflect on how funding for building homes has changed so much over the years. When I started in housing, governments gave social housing grants of between 60% and 100% to support building houses. Today, that grant has diminished dramatically which is why we need to find innovate ways to raise money to ensure we keep building homes. At Wandle, value for money should be interweaved in everything we do to support Wandle’s growth aspirations and celebrate another 50 years and more. We’re all in it together and dependant on one another to deliver, as others are dependent on us to provide new homes and sustain existing homes. As my children come of an age where they will leave the nest, I wonder how easy it will be for them to have a home, so at the very least I must do my best to help deliver more housing.